20 Things You Should Know About Portal 2
Written Wednesday, March 28, 2012 By Lee BradleyView author's profile
At GDC this year, Valve writers Chet Faliszek and Erik Wolpaw gave a talk called “How to Make a Sequel to a Game that Doesn’t Need One.” It was all about the development of Portal 2 and the ideas the studio abandoned along the way. It was also the most entertaining and informative talk of the show.
From cutting the main character, to including competitive multiplayer and even ditching portals themselves, the game went through quite a journey before it ended up on shelves. You may have heard some of these facts by now, but probably not from the writers themselves. Here’s 20 Things You Should Know About Portal 2.
WARNING: If you have not played Portal 2 yet, do not read on. There's spoilers in here. Also, if you haven't played Portal 2 yet, you should totally play Portal 2. I hear it's pretty good.
Chell Wasn’t Going To Be In It
Chell, the lab rat protagonist of the first Portal, was a no-brainer to appear in the sequel, right? Wrong. The original Portal 2 dropped her completely.
"We cut Chell. She got out [at the end of the first game], good luck to her, who needs her?" said Faliszek. “Right, who needs her?” echoed Wolpaw, with a smile on his face. Turns out everyone did. Chell eventually make the cut and would return as Portal 2’s playable character.
GLaDOS Wasn’t Going To Be In It Either
Not content with ditching the protagonist, Valve then decided to scrap the real star of the first game. “We cut GlaDOS,” said Faliszek, before adding, “She kinda died at the end. She had a nice little story arc, now it's time for a new villain.”
She was pencilled in to make a small, cameo appearance, however, as a tiny robot spouting legalese before each challenge. “Like those ads for medicine where they show puppies while they’re talking about the rectal bleeding it’s going to give you,” said Wolpaw.
Neither Were Portals!
Here’s where things get really bonkers. As well as the two main characters, Valve also dumped the central mechanic. The original Portal sequel wasn’t going to have portals in it.
"We cut Portals,” said Faliszek. ‘Sure, the name is in the title but we figured we'd worry about that later. Who needs them? We had a sexy new mechanic and we were super confident in that."
It Had Something Called F-Stop
So what was this new mechanic? Even now it’s shrouded in secrecy, unknown to anyone outside Valve. More than just a nifty bit of gameplay, it would be the basis for the entire game. But it never saw the light of day.
“The new mechanic was something that came out of our design experiments and it was called F-Stop,” said Faliszek. Wolpaw added, “I’m not actually gonna go into the details of the mechanic, because hopefully someday we’ll use it again.”
Cave Johnson Was the Main Antagonist
Cave Johnson, the irascible founder of Aperture Science, originally played a much larger role in Portal 2. He was going to be the game’s main baddie, but then life gave him lemons.
“We had a new antagonist and that was Cave Johnson, who actually ended up showing up in Portal 2 for part of the experience, but in F-Stop: Portal 2 he was the whole show,” explained Wolpaw.
“He was the main character. Originally, he was going to be this southern billionaire, but he eventually transmogrified into the mid-western millionaire that appears in Portal 2.”
It Was A Prequel
Bad haircuts, Ronald Reagan, Rick Astley: These are the things most people associate with the 1980‘s. But for Valve it was the original setting for Portal 2.
“This was also going to be a new era of Aperture that you hadn’t seen before,” revealed Wolpaw. “It was all going to take place in the 1980’s, about 20 years before the events of Portal 1. It was all going to be about this robot uprising, when you could see a whole new part of Aperture before it was destroyed.”
It Had a Completely Different Opening Sequence
Of course, as this earlier version of the game was so different, it also had a different relaxation vault opening sequence. You can watch it here. It’s pretty awesome.
You Played a Character Called Mel
So if you weren’t Chell in this odd vision of Portal 2, who were you? “You were this other character we called Mel,” explained Wolpaw, “who had blonde hair and a different coloured jumpsuit and was pretty obviously not Chell.”
Initially, playtesters didn’t mind the change. But then came a pivotal moment. GLaDOS didn’t recognise you. “Portal 1 was about this intimate story about the relationship you had with GLaDOS,” said Wolpaw. “So when she wakes up and doesn’t realise that you’re the person that did these things to her in Portal, it’s actually a blow to the player.
“Every playtester was like ‘Eeuurgh’... So, Chell went back in.”
There Was A Paranoid Sphere
Wheatley, the Intelligence Dampening Sphere that guides you through the start of the game, has his origins in another character.
“It was this paranoid sphere that had carved out a section of old Aperture as his own little fiefdom. He had set up all these defences to protect it. Unfortunately, all of the defences were pointed in one direction, so you could fall in about two feet behind him and pluck him off his pedestal,” said Wolpaw.
They Wanted to Let You Drop Wheatley Down the Stairs
When Valve developed the original prototype sphere, you could bash him against walls and throw him down stairs, screaming. It was great, so they wanted you to be able to do that to Wheatley. Unfortunately, however, it caused them “about a year of pain and suffering.”
Being able to drop Wheatley meant that they had to gate the player, making sure you carried him to doors so he could open the next area. Kinda like Guilty Spark in Halo. It was “a huge pain in the ass,” said Wolpaw. So they shortened the section down and made sure Wheatley was stuck in your hands.
Wheatley Originally Had a Different Voice
The voice of the paranoid prototype sphere was also the voice for the first incarnation of Wheatley. The chap providing the voice work was Richard Lord, one of Valve’s animators.
“People liked his voice enough that when our first Stephen Merchant session was delayed a month, right before E3 where we debuted Portal 2, we were like ‘What the hell, we’ll just play the Richard audio,” said Wolpaw. The reactions were mixed. You can see the debut trailer, and hear Lord in action, below.
The writers also seriously considered Richard Ayoade, star of The IT Crowd and the director of Submarine, to play the role of Wheatley.
Stephen Merchant Recorded Over 16 Hours of Material
“We have about 16 and a half hours of Stephen Merchant doing stuff,” said Wolpaw. “In that time we just let him sorta mess around with the lines and he did a lot of improvisation, some of which we used and some of which we edited together after the fact.”
“He really threw himself into it... It was terrifying because, we didn’t have him audition. We were just giving him some money to do it. And if he had sucked, or not cared because, y’know, he was gonna build a new deck on his house, we were super screwed. But he really knocked it out of the park.”
Wheatley Was Going To Die Early On, Forever
In the version of Portal 2 that shipped, Wheatley was a central figure right up to the game’s final moments. But in previous versions of the game he didn’t survive quite so long.
Said Faliszek, “Originally, GLaDOS crushed Wheatley right after she wakes up. And that was it. You didn’t see him anymore. He was just dead and gone. We thought that kind of finality let everyone understand just how evil GLaDOs was.”
However, people liked Wheatley and Valve didn’t want to waste the time you had spent building a relationship with the character. So they made the death fake and developed Wheatley into the main antagonist.
There Was a Morgan Freeman Sphere
In the early version of the game you would encounter the Morgan Freeman sphere. This was a sphere that had been trapped in a small room for “a few centuries,” and as a result was just “incredibly, incredibly wise,” explained Faliszek. “But only about the 20 x 20 space in which he was trapped.”
“So as soon as you dragged him 22 feet out of the room his mind was blown and he was pretty much useless. Although as the game progressed, he eventually started delivering some home spun wisdom, all of which related back to this 20 x 20 space that he’d been living in.”
There Was Competitive Multiplayer
Far from the co-op mode that ended up in Portal 2, Valve originally explored the idea of competitive multiplayer. It didn’t last long.
“We also tried a competitive multiplayer mode, which we put together over the space of a month or two,” said Wolpaw. “It was kind of a mix between the old Amiga game Speedball and Portal, except with none of the good parts of either of those two things.
“It was super chaotic, difficult to tell what was going on and no fun.”
The Original Ending Had Chell Speak Her First Word
During the development, the first ending that Valve settled upon culminated in a stalemate between Wheatley and Glados, something that could only be settled by Chell speaking her first word. You just had to click a button to say “Yes.”
“Oh my god, Chell’s finally going to speak!” enthused the writers when they pitched the idea. So Valve put it in. "And boy, did it suck," laughed Wolpaw. “Yeah, it really sucks,” chuckled Faliszek.
In Fact, There Were Multiple Endings
“At one point in production, explained Wolpaw, “we had this idea that scattered through the game would be these fake endings... where Chell would die and we’d play a song and if you wanted to you could just quit there.
“There was this part where there was a crack in the ceiling and you could see the moon. You could put a portal on the moon and if you put one on the wall it would suck you out onto the moon and you would asphyxiate, while listening to a sad song about the moon.
“We eventually cut the alternate endings, partly because of the amount of work it was going to be for how little pay-off, and partly because we overestimated how many great fake endings we were going to be able to come up with.”
It Had A Suction Vent Mechanic
During development, when the studio was showing off the game to journalists, one of the mechanics involved suction vents. We even previewed it ourselves. But it never made it to the finished game.
“We presented them as a puzzle mechanic,” said Wolpaw. “You could break a tube and suction would come out, and you could re-direct the suction through portals. It was super cool, but we just never really found a great puzzle use for it.
“The mitigating factor is that we did use it at the end when you get sucked onto the moon.”
GLaDOS Was a Potato Because…
“So Jay and I would take these long walks, trying to figure out what we were going to do with the story,” explained Wolpaw. “We knew GLaDOS was going to get deposed, and she was going to have to come with you, and we were trying to figure out what was the most humiliating thing that could happen to her.
“We figured that turning her into a potato battery was pretty bad. It just seemed super sad that she would be in this shriveled, crappy little potato.
The Bird Was Going To Eat GLaDOS, Piece By Piece
Expanding on the subject of the potato, Wolpaw also said, “We knew we would have to explain later on why GLaDOS wouldn’t just tell you how to solve the puzzles that Wheatley sets up for you.
“So our thought was that the bird was going to come in every couple of chambers and attack the potato and eat part of it, and GLaDOS was going to get stupider and stupider as you went along.
The idea, like so many of the others, was eventually dropped. “There were a couple of problems,” explained Wolpaw. “The first was that the idea of a stupid GLaDOS was funnier when we said it than when we actually tried to write it. The other is that it’s a big deal to get a bird to fly in and attack your view model. It’s a lot of work.”